"Had to abandon the boat. Going to get it tomorrow mid morning. Hope you got pictures. Was it you that sent the Sherrills Ford fire and rescue to help? They were great!"
We gathered at Mark's Sunday morning. The night before, Mark had contacted Towboat U.S. about recovering the boat, but the captain told him in all good faith that it could in the worst case cost $2,000, depending on how long it took to do the job. The current plan was for Jonathan and me to assist and we would try to rescue the boat ourselves. Mark's father keeps a Sea Ray runabout at Skippers Landing Marina, a dry storage facility on Lake Norman. We could use it to locate the beached Hobie 16 catamaran and tow it to the sheltered Stumpy Creek access, where Mark thought we would be able to get it on its trailer and tow it home. Jonathan and Mark brought their wetsuits, as the day promised to be cool and they would almost certainly have to get in the water, but I went in street clothes, intending to take more of a consultant's role in the operation.
On the drive down, I heard part of the story of the previous day's events. After they left the dock at Pinnacle Access, they had a fast broad reach up the lake on rising winds. By the time that they started back, they were seeing winds of 20 mph with higher - much higher - gusts. On a beam reach, they were getting out of control, and eventually they flipped. A power boater stopped to help them and they got the boat upright. They took down the main and the power boater started towing them back north to the State Park. Even with just the jib, they were over-running the power boat, which cut them loose, thinking they were able to sail on their own.
As close as I can follow, after this they were sailing back down the lake under jib and main, still more or less out of control. The port hull felt heavy, like it had a lot of water in it. They came to a bend in the lake and had to tack, and when they did, the boat went over again. This time, the Sheriff's Lake Patrol came and assisted. The sheriff was a bit over his head at Hobie Cat rescue, so he called the Sherrills Ford Fire and Rescue. They came out in their boat and very professionally assisted in recovering the gear in the water, including the mast at this point was down. They towed the upside-down boat to a nearby deserted island and beached it, securing all the gear on the beach nearby. Then they ferried the no-doubt mildly hypothermic and shell-shocked crew back to Pinnacle Access, where they picked up the truck and drove home.
At Skippers Landing, the friendly and professional staff got the Sea Ray out of the stack and in the water. They know Mark well. He, his father, and his family all use the boat regularly. It is probably one of the most well-used boats in the facility. I had been on it myself, and been very impressed with how well-kept it was, as well as being agile and powerful. The modified V-hull tracks well at speed and cuts down on pounding. It's a great boat.
Mark suggested I take it around to our planned takeout point for the Hobie, Stumpy Creek Access, while he drove the truck around. Jonathan came with me, to help me find my way around (he was a Navy navigator earlier in life) and incidentally look for the Hobie. They weren't positive exactly where it was, but Jonathan thought it was near Marker 17B.
Lake Norman is very difficult to navigate the first few times out. There is an ill-defined, curvy main stem with many coves, and coves off the coves. Right off the bat we got turned around and ran up lake a short way until we reached Marker 19, when we knew we were going the wrong way. We turned back and soon came to Marker 17D which was not even charted on the commercial map that we had on the boat. Across the way was a deserted island, and in a sandy beach we saw what could be an upside-down Hobie Cat. We powered over and identified, yes, that was it. Then we went on around the island to the Stumpy Creek Access and picked up Mark.
Back at Hobie Beach, we surveyed the wreckage, trying to decide how to proceed. Mark was sceptical that the boat could be righted, but I suggested that we at least try. It proved to be easy, and soon we had it riding on its hulls, though visibly down to port. We drug it partway onto the beach and pulled the bows up on a log and water began to pour out of the drain hole in the port hull. No plug, hmmm. I doubt if they went out like that, and later I developed a theory as to what happened. Mark fortunately had a spare plug in his truck so he powered off in the Sea Ray while Jonathan and I sorted through the mast, sails and rigging to get it ready for transport.
When Mark got back, we plugged the hull and slid the boat back into the water. Then we rigged a tow line and got the boats turned around and pointed away from shore. While Mark managed the boat end of the line to keep it out of the propeller, I manuevered the boat until it was taut against the Hobie. Jonathan was guiding it around from in the water, and by the time the Hobie was lined up, the Sea Ray was too deep for him to get aboard. So, he volunteered to ride the Hobie back to the Access Area.
I suggested that Jonathan could ride standing up, holding on to the hiking straps. Then, once I brought the Sea Ray up on plane, Jonathan would have given a good imitation of Ben Hur, right down to the javelin-like mast pointing out from the front of the boat. We all agreed that was funny but probably not workable. In truth, we worked our way in just off idle. At the ramp, a couple were trying to retrieve their boat and having some trouble. Getting the last foot in to the bow stop was giving them fits. Meanwhile, we had the Hobie alongside and were slowly drifting in closer, plus getting set downwind, while they fooled and fooled and fooled with their boat. Fortunately the little Sea Ray is super responsive and I was able to drop in and out of gear and maintain position, until finally they jumped in the cab and pulled off up the ramp. We slid right in behind them on the dock and got the Hobie on the trailer. Then I sped off to Skippers Landing in the Sea Ray while Mark and Jonathan got the Hobie tied down and drove over. I beat them by ten minutes.
Back at Mark's Hobie Cat storage area behind his house, we stood around for a few minutes, congratulating ourselves for a successful recovery, when I noticed water running along the bottom of the port hull and dripping onto the ground. Jonathan ran his finger along the drip, found where it was coming from, and poked right through the trash partially blocking the hole. A stream of water poured out. That might explain the missing plug - as the hull took on water, the pressure on the inside of the plug got to the point that it pushed it out. That's my theory and I'm sticking to it.
Text and Photographs by Paul Clayton. Posted 11/01/21.
Copyright © 2021 Paul M. Clayton